Phlox-y Lady

On our recent trip to Las Vegas, we saw some of the most fantastic flower arrangements in the lobbies of all of the hotels we visited.  At the Wynn hotel in particular, I was amazed at the large balls of flowers that were hung from a grove of trees that was located next to guest registration.  Admiring these huge multi-colored clusters of flowers reminded me of the phlox that were growing at home in my garden.  When I returned home, the phlox must have known I was thinking of them because they were in full bloom.

The phlox that I grow in my garden, Phlox paniculata, are the ones that most people are familiar with when you mention these beautiful Summer stunners.  Phlox paniculata are the tall garden phlox with their big, fragrant clusters of blossoms.  The blossoms vary in color but are most commonly seen in red, pink, salmon, lavender, purple or white.  They grow two to four feet tall and are most common in planting zones 3 to 8.

I have three varieties of phlox in my garden.  Along with the picture at the top, here are some shots of the bright red Phlox paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’, which is my favorite:

Here is the lavender Phlox paniculata ‘Franz Schubert’:

Rounding out the trio, here is Phlox paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’:

Phlox prefer full sun or very light shade along with light, fertile soil with ample organic matter to retain moisture.  They also need good drainage.  I try to provide adequate air circulation around the plants and also stake them up versus letting them fall over onto the ground due to the weight of the flower cluster.  You should also cut off spent blooms to avoid having the plant go to seed.  If you are looking for a great garden perennial, especially one that blooms in the heat of Summer, the phlox is the plant for you.  They are quite phlox-y (I had to write that just one more time…sorry).

You Can Teach An Old Garden New Tricks

To be honest about it, when I realized that my original garden was not growing very well because the plots were not getting enough sun, I was filled with many emotions.  There was disappointment and sadness because I had worked so hard to grow all of the plants from seeds under my grow light and so to see them struggling to live was hard.  Anger was present, of course.  How could I be so stupid and not realize that the sun was not going to shine through the surrounding trees once they were filled with leaves?  The money part weighed on me as well.  It wasn’t cheap to build four beds with nice gravel between them and then surround the plots with a secure fence to keep assorted critters out.  At the end of the 2011 gardening season, I thought it was over for my garden sanctuary.  It was time to dismantle the whole thing and just give up.

Over the Winter and into the beginning of the 2012 gardening season, I took some time to think about what, if anything, would grow and prosper in the area.  I came up with a list of crops that thrived in early Spring and actually would be harvested before the trees surrounding the old garden would be full of leaves.  I decided to not give up on the garden, but try planting three of the four plots with early providers–namely, a large plot of asparagus, another plot of horseradish and, last but not least, a third plot of rhubarb.

With these three groups of plantings, I am hoping to allow them to start growing in very early Spring when the surrounding trees are leaf-less.  The three groups are some of the earliest plants to show their faces (or leaves) when Spring has just barely arrived.  I also hope to get a few spears of asparagus, some off-white roots of horseradish to grind and some stalks of tangy rhubarb and be done with the plants by the time Spring has fully sprung and the area becomes more shaded.  At that point, the plants can continue to grow, but their best performance will be behind them.

At this point, the plants in the three plots are in their first year of growth.  While they seem to be growing and multiplying, it is too early to make a call if they are going to make it in the coming years and produce enough asparagus, horseradish and rhubarb for us to eat.  It’s better than nothing, right?  Keep your fingers crossed.  As well, I still have one plot left and empty.  Any ideas on something similar that I can put in my last plot of garden?

Critter Alert – Another One

This is not the greatest way to start your Sunday.  When the Saint animal control guy first came to the house to remove the woodchuck I had caught in my Havahart trap, he said that where there is one, there are several.  Guess what, he was right!

Let’s start the story from where we last left off with our woodchuck gossip.  As a precaution to keep what’s left of my garden in a healthy state, I have continued setting my trap as much as possible to deter my new woodchuck neighbors.  Several plants have snapped back after being eaten by a woodchuck earlier in July and I vowed to keep it that way.  Last weekend, the food that I had loaded the trap with came up missing with nothing to show for it.  I had actually seen a chipmunk run in and bring out a piece of cantaloupe, so I figured that the food was going out in that manner–to an animal very light in weight so that it doesn’t trip the trap, but crafty enough to get the bait out.

This Sunday morning, I woke up and looked out the window as I do every morning that the trap is set.  The door was closed!  I crept out in pajamas and my garden boots.  I listened for any sounds coming out of the trap–silence.  I lightly kicked the trap.  If you were inside a cage and trapped and then someone kicked the trap, wouldn’t you run around a little or at least give out a scream?  I got zip.  So I took my scissors and cut open the black contractor bag I had placed around the trap.  Look at what was on the other side looking at me………

Woodchuck #2!

#2 is much smaller than #1 and less crazy.  Less crazy meaning #2 isn’t slamming itself against the trap door to try to escape.  I have to say that I am still not brave enough to pick up the trap and empty it, but I was less crazed than the first time I caught one.  Who knows, by the time I catch #6 in my trap, I might be a real frontier man.  I could live with the Laura Ingalls Wilder family on Plum Creek and trap my own food and drink water out of a stream.  Who am I kidding?  I’ll never be like that….and please God, don’t let there be 6!

I Have Some Good News And Some Bad News

The battle with Woodchuck was a short one.  Within an hour and a half of setting my Havahart trap on Sunday, I came home to see the trap door shut and something was inside.  By the force that this mystery creature was hitting against the door in hopes of breaking it open and escaping, I knew it was most likely my nemesis, Woodchuck.  Since it was still daylight, I also knew it was most likely not a raccoon, a possum or a skunk.  Although I was the victor, it didn’t all go down so well.  This email was sent late Sunday evening, July 15, to a person that worked with us early this gardening season to get rid of whatever was eating my garden:

Subject:  HELP!!  Our Saddest Request For Services Yet

I’m sure you will enjoy this, but remember how I had called you and you found a firm that set traps and tried to catch whatever was eating my garden?  I think it was like Enviro Care or Bio Care…something like that.  Well, after they left at the end of a week’s time, the animal that was destroying my garden struck again a few times.  Basically ruined my garden!!  So I thought I could trap the animal myself and then remove it to somewhere far away.  So I bought a Havahart trap and set it this weekend thinking I could catch the woodchuck (what I swear is eating my garden).  I did just what the company you sent us did and put the trap into a contractor garbage bag so the critter wouldn’t know what it was and stuffed it with ripe cantaloupe.  If I caught the animal, I was sure I could take it somewhere far away.

Well, I caught it.  I caught something.  I think it is a woodchuck, but can’t really tell because I can’t get the trash bag pulled down far enough to see it.  I saw a paw only and that was enough to freak me out.  It was a paw with yellow-like claws…sickening.  I am not man enough to get the rest of the trash bag off and then take the trapped animal to a new place very far away from Glen Road.  The paw, claw and the smell (a dirty smell; not a skunk smell at all) were enough to set me free.  I can’t do it.  Is it possible to call that company again and have them come get rid of the animal?  I would like to get my trap back and keep setting it and then be able to call them to get rid of whatever I catch if that is ok with them, so let me know their number and contact information again after you call them.

Sorry for this, but I thought I was tougher than what I turned out to be.  🙂  If this company can come and remove the animal far away and then bring my trap back, that would be great.  I’ll set the trap again so if I have their number I would like to call if I catch anything so they can come again and remove it.  This will save them some time and help me grow a garden.  Let me know what they say.

The trap picture above contains the critter.  The person from the removal company did come back very early on Monday morning and moved the animal in the trap to a new location far away.  He confirmed to me that it was Woodchuck.  My trap is now reset in its same spot in case any Woodchuck family members decide to come and feast on my garden.  You want to know the truth?  While I am glad that my garden may be able to grow a little during the rest of the Summer, I feel bad about trapping and moving Woodchuck.  Woodchuck was a part of Glen Road just like I am.  Maybe he should have been able to stay??  I guess Woodchuck should have planted his own garden to eat and then things would have been fine….or would they have been?

This Means War!

WANTED – DEAD OR ALIVE

Yes, it’s you I’m talking to Woodchuck.  Your crime?  Crimes against humanity.  Crimes against a garden, it’s owner and all the vegetables and flowers you’ve destroyed.  After what you’ve done while I was on vacation means that I have to take our battle up a notch.  It’s me versus you.  Man versus beast.  One of us has to go and it’s not going to be me…..I have way too many things that I’d have to pack.  I knew something was up in my garden and now I am keenly aware that it is not a slug problem.  How do I know it’s you, Woodchuck?  It all starts the morning after my return from Las Vegas and a walk back to the garden.  These are the green beans that I saw and now grow.  No slug could do this.  I found the hole you dug under the fence and looked at all your destruction.

YOU GOTS TO GO!!

As someone who loves to garden, seeing my garden in bad shape was pretty devastating.  I tried to stop the damage early, as many of you have read, and thought that I had been successful.  Between the fence, the company that came and set traps and moved animals to another location and the various slug removal ideas made it look like I was beyond the destruction that had been occurring.  I felt so smart!!  Well, that is not the case anymore.  I’m taking matters into my own hands.  I am going to become my own Daniel Boone and catch Woodchuck on my own.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

How?  I bought a woodchuck sized Havahart trap.  I saw how the firm that came early this season set their trap up.  They put their trap inside a black contractor’s garbage bag.  Makes it look less like a trap and more like a dark little tunnel to those smart woodchuck critters.  I can do that.  They filled it with onions.  I’m going to do one better….I have read a number of internet articles and I’m filling my trap with ripe cantaloupe, sliced onions and seafood flavored cat chow.  I am going to put the food in the front of the trap, in the middle of the trap and then in the back so that when Woodchuck gets back there, it will trip the lever and the door will come down and trap it.  I’ve decided that on Friday and Saturday night, I will not set the trap, but fill it with food.  Woodchuck will come both days and eat the food and get used to the set up.  Then I’ll set it on Sunday and hope that Woodchuck feels comfortable going inside the trap and then I’ll get it.

I WILL WIN!!

Right now, I’m pretty sure I will be able to remove the cage if I catch Woodchuck and open it far away from Glen Road so that the animal can get out.  Well, let’s say I’m 75% sure I can do this.  I have never really liked critters, so there is always the small chance I will need someone else to do it.  I’m feeling confident though since I know that if I can’t do this, then my garden will be done for this season (if it isn’t already!).

DOWN WITH WOODCHUCKS

I’m more concerned about Woodchuck getting aggressive with me than I am about overcoming my fear of critters.  I think I’m pretty smart, but reading on the internet about woodchucks makes me believe they are smart too.  What if Woodchuck tries to trap me?!?!  Here’s hoping I’m working against a dumb woodchuck versus a smart one.  I’ll keep you posted…………..

A Plant I Like

Most people who have seen my garden this season have asked me what the giant thistle is.  Believe it or not, the plant is a giant thistle better known as a globe artichoke.  Each year, I try to plant one or two things that I have never grown before.  In the past, this has included kholrabi, fennel and broccoli raab.  After the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) made fried artichokes for us, I decided that the artichoke was going to be in my garden for the first time this season.

The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a perennial thistle of the genus Cynara originating in Southern Europe around the Mediterranean. It grows tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery-green leaves 10–20 inches long.  The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 3–5 inches in diameter with numerous triangular scales.  The individual florets are purple.  The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions and the base, known as the “heart”; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the “choke” or beard.  These are inedible in older larger flowers.

I grew my plants from seeds under the grow light in the basement.  The seeds are a variety known as Imperial Star.  Specifically bred for annual production, Imperial Star produces artichokes the first season from seed.  Typically 6-8 mature buds, averaging 3-4 inches in diameter, are grown per plant.  Imperial Star plants grow 3-4 feet tall.

My artichoke plants in the garden have really flourished.  They seem to grow every hot and humid day that we have.  So far, they have required little, if any, special attention.  The next phase should be the flowering of the plants and then the formation of the artichoke that we know and can eat.  I’ll keep you posted on our fun new find as the plants continue to mature during this gardening season.

P. S. –  for those of you who read the cabbage murder mystery post, notice my sad cabbage plants in the back of this picture.  As well, notice the bowl of beer or as we call it in my garden, the slug’s swimming pool.  Not looking good for some home-grown cabbage this year!!